I’ve just realized one major reason graduate school was such a hard transition for me: most graduate students interact with fellow graduate students a lot like they’d interact with coworkers. We see each other at the university, chit-chat some, interact more during occasional happy hours…but we aren’t cornerstones of each others’ social lives. We usually aren’t even a primary component of each others’ social lives.
Some places it’s different, and your fellow graduate students are the major components of your social life. But not here. Too many other options, and too little compatibility other than our shared interest in a very broad subject area. (I mean, there are only 4 or 5 other graduate students in my department, out of 80 or 90, that really would understand or care about the basic motivation for my research. Let alone the techniques used and results obtained. And in terms of personality, sure, they’re more compatible with me than a completely random US adult. But they’re not more compatible with me than a completely random graduate student.)
I only realized this recently. It was one of the reasons I was socially completely unprepared for graduate school. I grew up in a small town in a close-knit family, so I already wasn’t used to the idea of casual acquaintances. And my very small liberal arts college, again around a very close-knit group of friends, didn’t teach me that much more.
What left me even more unprepared was that I moved across the country, to someplace where I had no existing social network. Sure, there were a few random connections. Some alums of my alma matter, though I’d never met them before. I didn’t understand how much of a difference this would make, given that I was going to be interacting with other graduate students like coworkers instead of like college freshmen. It’s so much harder to meet new people without an existing network.
None of these are really new realizations for me, I suppose. But time has given me a lot more clarity about what exactly the issues were, and continue to be.
I also think this is something that people heading to graduate school straight out of college should be more aware of. The people in your graduate program really just won’t be the basis of your social life. And unlike college, you won’t be taken lots of courses where you’re meeting lots of new people every quarter/semester. So you need to work a lot harder to meet new people and maintain important relationships. You need to be much more willing to make the first move meeting people and letting them know you want to become friends.
Of course, these are skills I am still very weak at, and need a lot of improvement on. Possibly the most important social skill I need to work on.